SoulCycle: Lessons in Community, CX, and Retention
What a week it’s been.
Finished my last week hosting my first ever DTC dinner.
Ari (from Air) and I collaborated on a dinner to bring together some of the most remarkable minds of DTC.
So thankful to those that came by to celebrate a Jew-ish night full of love and laughter.
This newsletter is not about that, though.
We’re about to take a whole different spin here.
We’re taking a deep dive on SoulCycle. I’ve learned more from them about Community, CX, and Retention than I’ve learned from anyone else this year.
How did we even get here?
I’ve not worked out in 9 years. What is happening here? Why am I writing about SoulCycle anyway?
So many q's.
Before we hop in: have you checked out the latest episode of Down To Chat?
Cody and I did a casual episode answering a bunch of questions from Twitter, hitting topics such as CRO, JRB Kits, Email campaigns vs. flows, how we are looking at cohorts, DTC data wars, and so much more. Check it out here.
This email is brought to you by Wonderment, my retention swiss army knife. Wonderment is the easiest way to proactively set expectations on shipping timeframes, automatically update customers with delays, and measure shipping expectations vs. reality across the business.
Check out Wonderment here.
Let’s back it up. There are quite a few questions that need answering.
How did I go nine years without a real workout?
Why did I choose to go with SoulCycle?
CX and Community learnings?
Are pigeons even real?
Not sure I’ll get to all these questions, but let’s do the best we can.
- SoulCycle: The 101
- How Did I End Up @ SoulCycle?
- SoulCycle: Community & Experience
- SoulCycle: Structuring around Retention
Let’s get rolling:
1. SoulCycle: The 101:
Pause, Eli. What is SoulCycle?
SoulCycle is a fitness company founded in 2006 by Elizabeth Cutler and Julie Rice. They're known for their indoor cycling classes, which combine elements of cycling, dance, and strong vibes. The classes are led by instructors who motivate and guide participants through a high-energy workout.
SoulCycle has become known for its dimmed lights, scented candles, and energetic atmosphere, all a big part of the appeal. The company's studios are designed to be welcoming and inviting, creating a sense of community and connection among participants.
The instructors are at the front and center and charismatic as hell. It’s giving broadway-Esque, youth pastor energy.
Having grown up in a very religious orthodox Jewish universe, there are some ~spiritual~ vibes I sense here. Classes usually incorporate elements of spirituality, such as the use of mantras and affirmations.
According to their website:
“SoulCycle is more than just a workout. It’s a sanctuary. We ride together as a pack in candlelit studios to the rhythm of one-of-a-kind playlists. We’re coached by legendary instructors who motivate and challenge us. With more than 83 studios (and counting), our inspiring indoor cycling class is available across the U.S., Canada, and the UK. Riders come to us to experience breakthroughs and unlock their full potential—on and off the bike.”
On a “How I Built This” episode, the cofounders talk about why they started SoulCycle:
“I think we both felt that exercise did not have to be torture, that it could be joyful. And that by creating a place that was chic, and that was aspirational and turning our instructors into more like spiritual gurus than being drill camp sergeants, we felt that we could really create something that people would value. And then at the same time, we could create a new product.”
In researching this newsie, I listened to “The Cult of SoulCycle” podcast episode, which was fascinating.
My favorite quote:
“As Americans, our ultimate religion is self-improvement. Like, we fetishize self-improvement and the idea that those who achieve perfect fitness deserve a happy life… these are the values that we’re taught. It makes sense that fitness is the new religion for us.”
I’ll leave you with that. 😃
2. How Did I End Up @ SoulCycle?
Fun fact: I grew up pretty overweight and spent my adolescent years on and off all sorts of diets, but nothing could cure my insatiable desire for carbs and ice cream. That, coupled with a bad ankle, meant I hardly had a real workout and never felt great about myself.
I was 18 when I started taking weight loss and healthy eating seriously, went to the gym regularly, and slowly gained back self-confidence. That’s a story for a different time.
In the last decade, I’ve done a bit of yoga and whatever else came my way.
Some tennis? Sure.
Rowing? I’ll give it a go.
I’ve not done a cardio workout for more than 20-25 minutes in the last decade, and I’ve not been feeling great lately. My obsession with cults, community, and feeling better about myself took me to SoulCycle.
A trifecta of curiosity and self-improvement?
3. SoulCycle: Community & Experience:
From the moment I hit the app, you can tell the thought has gone into gamifying this entire onboarding. Discounted first ride, discounted 14-day unlimited ride, etc.
That’s all cool, but I’m a CX guy and a sucker for community, so let’s talk about how it played out.
I booked my first class and got a call 24 hours before the class from the studio manager setting expectations for my first ride.
His tone felt “on brand.”
He was cool and suave, but at the same time, it felt like he genuinely cared about my experience going well. They asked me to arrive 15 minutes before the class to get me set up on the bike, and waived the $3 shoe rental fee for the first ride. When I mentioned that this was my first intense workout in a decade, he responded, “you’ll do just fine; we can’t wait to see you.” It felt sincere.
I entered the studio and felt like I had walked into a place of worship or a community club. Everyone knew each other, and they were all weirdly chipper for a 6 am class. Upon checking in and saying my name, they recognized it being my first class and showed me the ropes.
This sounds like a no-brainer, but most hotels and DTC brands don’t even do this well. The instructor walked into the dark room and turned up the music. It felt alive yet deeply meaningful. Everyone was there for the same reason.
This sounds dramatic, but I felt emotional. There was depth and meaning.
It’s just a spin class, but the obsession with experience really hit.
- People: everyone is kind, yet cool. It’s giving trader joe’s employees, just cooler.
- Training: obsessed with keeping a uniform feel on the experience. It feels hypnotic.
- Vision: guests are centered around a vision of doing something for you, it’s a “soul” cycle.
So much of this felt like the dream WeWork had based on Kabbalah Centre learnings.
- Focus on a few things that impact experience and go ALL IN: For SoulCycle, it’s their studio and staff. Their bikes are mediocre, and a class is not cheap. SoulCycle isn’t winning with said class, though, they are winning with the spiritual-esque experience they deliver. It’s their special sauce, and they go all in on it.
- Set expectations: For SoulCycle, it’s as much as giving new customers a call beforehand and asking them to come early to get set up. I doubt it’s the same for your DTC brand, but what can you do to ensure folks LOVE their first experience?
- A Page From Four Seasons & Danny Meyer: SoulCycle focuses on the way people feel by remembering what customers share and following up on stories they share, vacations they take, etc. Relationships matter.
4. SoulCycle: Structuring around Retention:
SoulCycle has an 85% retention rate and continues to grow.
Now, let’s be clear. This “spiritual journey,” fantastic CX, affinity customers have with their coach, exclusive events, and SC community are all very strong retention levers.
But that’s not all SoulCycle is thinking about.
There’s a ton of personalization and gamification on the app when logged in as well. They call out your streak, the number of rides you took, etc.
After taking ride one, I got a plain text email from the studio staff that looked like this.
They focused on selling me to come for ride #2 with a discount but also left space to handle any issues I had on ride #1 and saved face on potential “bike issues.” I think DTC brands have much to learn on upselling and cross-selling and can take a page from the SoulCycle book.
Lesson: never underestimate the power of community, vibes, and a thought-out experience.
(Disclaimer: SoulCycle has faced criticism and scandal in recent years over allegations of insensitive comments made by some of its star instructors and reports of sexual misconduct.
In response to the allegations, the company said:
“When we receive complaints or allegations related to behavior within our community that does not align to our values, we take those very seriously and both investigate and address them. We are committed to making improvements and ensuring that we live up to the values our teams and riders expect of us.”
They are by no means perfect at all, but think there are things we can learn from them nonetheless.)
That’s it for this week!
Next week, I’ll be chatting about the JRB community on Facebook, which is nearing 8k “Roadies” and is only four months old.
Those that know me have bared witness to my obsession with Kith. I love the magic they create and the thoughtfulness of their collaborations.
Not many fashion brands have that level of output and can sustain the level of excellence they do.
I’ve been lucky to meet Michelle Jose, the CX Manager at Kith, on the CX Friends discord a few months back.
Thanks for joining, Michelle!
What is your CX Philosophy?
My CX philosophy is simple, have compassion and put yourself in the customer's shoes.
It's easy to just throw in a canned response when you're bombarded with questions from customers all day, but it's so important to really understand what is being said/asked to be able to make the customer feel heard and seen.
I make a point to really understand what the need is of the person reaching out and what their story is with us. Being a brand known for our exclusive/hype releases, I want our customers to feel a part of the family and included.
What is your favorite Kith CX story?
My favorite Kith story is actually just my favorite funny story. We had a limited release in collaboration with The Wire and we had a customer reach out to us to say their package was stolen off their porch.
Typically in these instances, we will try our best to file a claim with our carrier, but the customer sent us a video of a groundhog stealing the package from the porch. It was the cutest and funniest video. The groundhog was on a mission for those t-shirts, so I did all I could to try and get the customer a replacement order to make up for it.
It's hard to get replacement orders for limited-release items here at Kith because we tend to sell through so quickly, but when I'm able to scramble and make it happen for a customer, it brings me joy.